By just about anyone’s reckoning the FAA audit process known as the Air Transport Oversight System (ATOS) has turned into a horribly labor-intensive and time-consuming job. Now, as the agency’s flight standards office loses about 250 employees a year to budget cuts, the onus has fallen squarely on the nation’s regional airlines to pay the bill.
Embraer and Bombardier each collected significant orders late last month for their respective regional jets, the Brazilian manufacturer from Saudi Arabian Airlines for 15 dual-class Embraer 170s and the Canadian airframe maker from Northwest Airlines for 15 fifty-seat CRJ200s. Embraer’s sale marked its first from the Middle East, a potentially lucrative market where regional networks remain largely undeveloped.
The giant sucking sound generated by the bankruptcies of two of the largest airlines in the U.S. echoed last month through the financial community and across the air transport industry, including the regional airline sector. Among Delta’s various partners, wholly owned Comair stands to feel the most profound repercussions because it now too operates under Chapter 11 protection.
Mesaba Airlines became the latest casualty of Northwest Airlines’ financial meltdown last month, when it followed its sole mainline code-share partner into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The move followed weeks of speculation about the effects of Northwest’s failure to pay its Airlink partners millions of dollars in flying fees and subsequent plans to remove as much as half of the seating capacity from Mesaba’s fleet.
Northwest Airlines has presented its pilot union leaders with a plan to start a new subsidiary specifically to replace the airline’s aged Douglas DC-9s with 70- to 100-seat regional jets. Employee compensation would fall to levels common among regional airlines flying 50- and 70-seat RJs, meaning Northwest’s DC-9 pilots would earn about half what they earn now and lose pension and 401(k) benefits.
NTSB public hearings are scheduled to take place June 13 to 15 on the crash of a Pinnacle Airlines Bombardier CL-600 regional jet in Jefferson City, Mo., on October 14 last year. The two crewmembers were killed. There were no passengers on board and no injuries on the ground. The flight was repositioning from Little Rock, Ark., to Minneapolis-St. Paul when it lost power in both engines at FL410.
Try as they might, regional airlines just can’t seem to avoid the glare of public scrutiny. The latest controversy, involving the fatal crash of a Pinnacle Airlines CRJ200 on October 14 last year, has once again forced the industry to defend its safety record. This time, however, the airlines can’t blame the hubbub on the rantings of politicians or ex-DOT Inspectors General.
Bankrupt Northwest Airlines has turned the financial screws on its existing Airlink partners by asking for bids from several regional airlines to fly RJs carrying up to 76 passenger seats.
Former DOT Inspector General Mary Schiavo’s latest crusade against the aerospace establishment has placed Bombardier, General Electric, Honeywell, Northwest Airlines, KGS Electronics and Parker Hannifin at the center of a lawsuit filed on behalf of the families of the crew who died in the crash of a Pinnacle Airlines Bombardier CRJ200 on Oct. 14, 2004, outside Jefferson City, Mo.
Northwest Airlines has extended the deadline for regional partner Pinnacle Airlines to pay another $21.7 million in aircraft sublease security deposits to April 15, as the sides continue to negotiate the terms of “their future business relationship.” In September Northwest requested that Pinnacle pay the additional funds by March 1, but the Memphis-based regional has refused.